By Mel Greenberg
With more coaching moves still to come, the post postseason sidelines in women’s collegiate basketball will continue to make for interesting news and observations until several key vacancies get filled and the ensuing ripple effect finally subsides.
In that regard, the annual Boo Williams extravaganza of blue chip high school talent this coming weekend is appropriately housed in Newport News, Virginia, its annual headquarters, considering the southern state has managed to top Texas as a center for news items in the sport despite A&M’s capturing its first NCAA title.
At one recent moment, Williams’ own sister, Georgetown’s Terri Williams-Flournoy, the former Penn State star, was thought to be a frontrunner for the Virginia vacancy that is no longer unfilled. She could still become a candidate elsewhere.
On the same Tuesday night last week that Texas A&M was in Indianapolis rallying in the second half at Conseco Fieldhouse to beat Notre Dame in the championship, Cal-Berkeley’s Joanne Boyle was issuing a statement to plug the rumor mill flow on the Cavaliers’ vacancy saying, “I am not the Virginia coach.”
Despite that statement, which seemed to be motivated by legal considerations, four days later on Saturday the Cavaliers essentially announced Boyle is not the Cal coach because she is the new Virginia coach, replacing longtime veteran Debbie Ryan, a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer.
Has any state beyond Virginia ever had a cluster of its major universities perform a messier job in the same time period of botching up the way they do business in the women’s game, which is not to deny what a great hire former Duke player and assistant Boyle is in succeeding Ryan. She also head coached at Richmond.
However, it also became apparent that Ryan’s decision to leave the Cavaliers was not exactly all one hundred percent a result of her own self-deliberation, although Virginia officials, who also announced her departure on a Saturday several weeks ago, accompanied her exit with a 21-gun written salute.
That was a moderation of the recent press conference approach used at LSU to announce that Van Chancellor, another Women’s Hall of Famer, would no longer coach the Tigers despite a year remaining in his contract.
Both were at least in contrast to the terse John Wilkes Booth pistol shot method used last fall by MSG Sports officials on their WNBA New York Liberty front office executive Carol Blazejowski, yet another Women’s Basketball of Famer, whose final day on the job was apparently unknown to her the morning she headed off to work.
Her ouster was announced in a few brief paragraphs without any quotes.
Apparently the LSU vacancy got in the way of Virginia officials’ original intentions when UCLA’s Nikki Caldwell, a former assistant to Ryan, as well as who starred at Tennessee and also assisted at her alma mater, spurned the Cavaliers’ approach to accept a near-$1 million offer embraced by LSU.
That’s now the money being rumored to be going to Boyle, which is still a bargain price compared to what the extraction costs were in place to become too much a financial barrier for Virginia to grab its own all-time legend Dawn Staley, who is currently the head coach of South Carolina.
Yes Virginia, there is a hefty buyout clause in the women’s game.
Though unable to land her dream position that existed once she proved previously at Temple in her native Philadelphia she could become a successful coach, Staley is not unhappy about remaining with the Gamecocks considering she has the potential to take them to front of the gap that exists between the rest of the Southeastern Conference and perennial power Tennessee.
While Virginia officials were busy keeping the university charter jet fueled and airborne, not far away Virginia Tech decided the cheapest way to save travel money finding a coach is to just walk down the hall to the men’s office where they decided operations director Dennis Wolff, a previous head coach at Boston University, was perfect to replace Beth Dunkenberger and women’s coaching experience was not a necessary qualification.
Hey, don’t discount the move totally since one boys high school coaching legend Speedy Morris in a similar move had instant success when then-athletic director Bill Bradshaw, now at Temple, hired Morris at La Salle in Philadelphia in the early 1980s.
Not to be outdone in the state of Virginia, especially involving schools with past track records of Associated Press Poll appearances, Old Dominion’s athletic director Wood Selig, a former member of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament committee when he was at Western Kentucky, decided last week to take advantage of the fading newspaper industry and use the medium as a public forum for dissing longtime Lady Monarchs coach Wendy Larry.
Saying he would have no shot at getting Larry an extension from ODU’s president and board, though its hard to believe she would have zero support for something, Selig has referenced Old Dominion’s three-year departure from its 17-year rule of the Colonial Athletic Association.
It’s hard to believe former longtime athletic director Jim Jarrett, who retired in the last year, would be airing internal ODU dirty laundry in public.
Local sports columnist Tom Robinson in Sunday’s (April 10th) edition of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk declared, in light of an upcoming inexperienced roster and Selig’s comments, that letting Larry go now would be more beneficial than the cost-savings of retaining her the rest of the her contract, which is one or two years depending on the school’s or her position.
It should be noted that while Selig’s expectations are not totally without merit, his comment that Old Dominion should still be on top of the CAA and that remark is “not a slight” to the rest of the conference is just dead wrong.
First understand that Larry, who might be wise to take a shot at the Charlotte vacancy considering the pressures of that now lie ahead to win next year, is among the most respected Division I coaches by her peers.
Secondly, for Selig to give lip service to the rest of the CAA is to ignore that Old Dominion became the bar for the rest of the conference to improve as UConn in a higher sphere became the challenge for the rest of the Big East to get serious about the sport.
Selig noted the poll rankings of such mid-majors as Xavier, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Gonzaga, and Marist, and remarked to the Virginian-Pilot’s Robinson: “They don’t have anywhere near the history, tradition, and possibly even the support that this program has and currently enjoys. So when you analyze it like that, maybe I’m naïve, but I think we should always be dominating the CAA.”
In Selig’s apparent view, never mind that James Madison, the two-time CAA champion, has a history of competing at the top of the conference and that Dawn Evans was among the nation’s leading scorers. Forget that had injuries not struck Drexel at midseason, the Dragons in Philadelphia might have been on a serious run at an NCAA at-large bid, if not the conference title.
Obviously, in Selig’s view of the CAA, Virginia Commonwealth’s ability to recruit the likes of NCAA scoring runner up and rebound leader Courtney Hurt as well as the Ram’s addition of midseason transfer Andrea Barbour doesn’t mean all that much.
In case Selig didn’t notice, UNC Wilmington’s rise to an all-time season in its history had something to do with the hire of one Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and former WNBA star whose work this season was such that her CAA peers named her coach of the year, an honor which clearly moved her when the award was announced at the conference postseason banquet.
Also, let’s not forget about Hofstra, which has made strides since the hire of Krista Kilburn-Stevesky and has recruited an all-CAA star in sophomore Shante Evans out of the Philadelphia suburbs and a top rookie this past season in Kate Loper.
As for Delaware, the team that ousted ODU in the CAA quarterfinals, Selig may not have heard of Elena Delle Donne. Perhaps he looked at the box scores during her 11-game absence due to Lyme Disease, but she was the national high school player of the year in 2008 and actually gave up a scholarship at UConn to stay home and eventually play for Tina Martin’s Blue Hens after spending a year away from the sport.
In fact that decision, while being a negligible effect on the Huskies’ run to two straight unbeaten titles in 2009 and 2010, had some impact added to other factors – the Caroline Doty knee injury being one – in UConn ‘s downfall to Big East rival Notre Dame in the NCAA national semifinals a week ago.
But that is a discussion for another day.
Furthermore, beyond the aforementioned six CAA programs that have stepped to the plate to chase ODU, the other five schools have pulled their share of upsets against conference leaders, especially George Mason.
Elsewhere at this hour, Wisconsin, which fired Lisa Stone; UCLA after Caldwell, Cal-Berkeley after Boyle, who will be formally introduced at Virginia Monday; Xavier, after Kevin McGuff’s move to Washington, and Charlotte after Karen Aston’s surprise announcement to leave the 49ers, remain among the top of the current Division I openings.
Several weeks ago before the vacancies began to proliferate the Guru noted that when the search begins for new coaches look for schools serious about retaining persons whose names start leaking as candidates to begin announcing new contracts or reworked deals with extensions.
That’s already happened at Miami, whose Katie Meier guided the Hurricanes to a regular-season tie with Duke for the Atlantic Coast Conference title earning her Associated Press coach-of-the-year honors in a three-way tie with Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer.
Tricia Cullop, who guided Toledo to the WNIT title over Southern Cal, has a new deal as does Texas Tech’s Kristy Curry, who was thought to be involved in the LSU hunt before announcing her withdrawal.
Temple’s Tonya Cardoza, a former 14-year assistant at UConn to Auriemma who succeeded Dawn Staley in July 2008, is in a current re-negotiation, according to a knowledgeable source, that began prior to the vacancies.
Normally, the Boo Williams spring tournament is a place where the AAU/high School teams with premium talent compete before stands that constitute a virtual one-week old reunion of the just concluded Women’s Basketball Coaches Association convention.
However, this weekend in place of coaches making targeted recruits aware of their presence, the coaches themselves might discover that a person lurking nearby around the corner could actually be an athletic director with a vacancy that urgently needs to be filled.Texas A&M’s Blair Still On a High
Aggies longtime coach Gary Blair has had few moments for normal postseason relaxation after Texas A&M beat Notre Dame for the NCAA title Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
He is also a former assistant on Louisiana Tech’s first NCAA title and has also coached Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas, which he guided to an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1998.
“I don’t have much time to talk right now,” the 65-year-old Blair said Saturday afternoon a day before heading to ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., with senior Danielle Adams, the MVP of the Final Four and one of 15 eligible stars invited for Monday’s WNBA draft. “I have to give a presentation to some 45,000 persons.”
Blair had a little time for humor and to talk business.
“Do you realize (UConn men’s coach) Jim Calhoun and I combined are 133 years old?” Blair spoke of himself and the veteran Huskies coach who just guided his team to a third NCAA men’s title.
“I’m upset that Van Chancellor retired and Don Flanagan (New Mexico) retired because now I’m the second oldest women’s coach behind (Oregon’s) Paul Westhead instead of the fourth oldest,” Blair said with a chuckle.
Westhead, who coached the Phoenix Mercury to its first of two WNBA titles in 2007, is a relative newbie to the women’s game having previously coached such NBA teams as the Los Angeles Lakers and such collegiate men’s teams as La Salle and Loyola Marymount using his uptempo style of play.
Blair also displayed some native pride over his Texas roots.
“Now that we won one at Texas A&M, you got Baylor (2005), Texas Tech (1993), and Texas (1986) with women’s titles – I don’t think there’s any other state that has four schools with NCAA women’s titles, is there?” Blair asked.
He also critiqued his own performances at the podium during the various press conferences in Indy.
“I know I’m long-winded, but I wanted to get my points across,” Blair said.
The Guru responded that Blair was well-received by the Guru’s media colleagues, several calling Blair “a quote machine,” and the Guru said he has had experience on the seaboard at schools where responses are sometimes lengthy, notably one that played A&M twice this season.
Texas A&M’s title also gives Louisiana Tech extended legacy with the Techsters’ Sonja Hogg winning one when she was the sole coach outright, and then later Leon Barmore, once an associate head coach, winning outright with the Techsters, while Blair just won and former all-American and assistant Kim Mulkey guided Baylor to the title in 2005.
Apparently Blair got little love from the folks at Disney after making postgame remarks following the championship and about wanting to take his grandchildren to the Magic Kingdom. He even mentioned Calhoun doing likewise.
Blair didn’t say so in so many words but one got the sense that the Mickey Mouse gang doesn’t exactly reach out with the perks towards notables who say nice things in public settings about the Orlando and Anaheim locales as Disney used to respond in the days before the national economy soured.
He said there’s a chance that a series with Tennessee or UConn could start next season but UConn at the moment involves having Purdue move a date, which the Boilermakers have no desire to do. UConn and Temple in the Future?
Now that Connecticut has played at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, winning the NCAA regional at Temple two weeks ago, could Auriemma and Temple’s Cardoza have their teams hook up for a series down the road?
“I wouldn’t mind doing it, perhaps coming down here in the season we’re not at Villanova on our Big East schedule,” Auriemma told the Guru during that little press row chat the two were having during the Duke-DePaul game that ESPN cameras managed to catch.
Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw said Cardoza wanted to wait until her Owls got a little better consistently, “but I think we’re already there.”
Though the Owls got crushed in Norfolk a year ago when the two teams met in the NCAA’s second round, Temple bounced back this past season to go unbeaten in conference until meeting eventual champion Xavier in the final game of the Atlantic 10 regular season schedule.
The Owls were upset by Dayton in the A-10 semifinals but then ousted Arizona State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah, before losing to eventual NCAA runner up Notre Dame in the second round.
Incidentally, the Guru was told by Michael Anastasi, sports editor of the Salt Lake City Tribune and incoming president of the Associated Press Sports Editors association (APSE), who was in Indianapolis for another event, that when Temple was out West in his city for the two rounds the Tribune put up a lot of Temple stuff at its website and that the related traffic numbers were “through the roof,” in terms of interest.
Though Tennessee and Dan Fleser of the Knoxville News Sentinel didn’t advance to the Women’s Final Four, the newspaper’s sports editor Phil Kaplan and current APSE president was on the scene because of the panel on women’s sports journalists held at the National Sports Journalism Center at IUPUI University in Indianapolis.Postseason Banquets
Several local teams are in the process of preparing for their individual postseason awards banquets but the one for Big Five women will be April 19 at Drexelbrook, in Drexel Hill.
Check with the Big Five office in terms of public availability for tickets.
In case the word didn’t get out elsewhere during March Madness, it should be noted that Penn’s Alyssa Baron, likely to be named the Big Five freshman of the year, received the Ivy League rookie of the year award, being only the second Penn player to win the award behind Diana Caramanico.
She also was the first freshman to win the Ivy scoring title since the league began formal competition in 1979-80 and on to the double round-robin in 1986-87.
Baron scored 464 points, averaging 16.6 points per game and was the only player in the Ivies to score at least 400 points this season.
Princeton’s Addie Micir, incidentally, out of Bucks County was player of the year.
The last freshman to win the Ivy scoring title was Gail Koziara in 1978-79.
Penn was also one of 33 winners of the NCAA’s “Pack the House” challenge that involves a recipient in each conference for best attendance and the Quakers’ best of 707 fans in their game with Columbia on Feb. 12th was their highest since the 2005 season.
A $500 prize is being donated to the Cystics Fibrosis Foundation. Assistant coach Kara Cassidy has a friend who lost two siblings to the disease.-- Mel